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"What Urban Liberals Might Learn from Rural Rebels" by Russel Arben Fox

Sandra Lindberg

I like this article, which I saw thanks to the SCNCC Facebook page post. I like it a lot. It's mostly a review of what sounds like a great book, For-Profit Democracy: Why the Government Is Losing the Trust of Rural America by rural sociologist Loka Ashwood, but the article also points out--as I try to do on various SCNCC sites--that we still have a left dominated by viewpoints from both US coasts. We have special challenges in the middle of the country that well-meaning leftists east and west do not completely comprehend.

Here's an example: The Illinois Environmental Council, an nfp that helps write and advocate for environmental laws in IL, is pushing a bill that looks really good at first glance. It would require every municipality to survey all water pipes within its borders every five years and then set up a plan to remove all lead pipes within 18 months of their identification . Given what happened to kids in Flint, that sounds like a really important law. Here's the problem. Somebody lobbied the bill's authors pretty hard and the text also mandates that municipalities will be responsible for the costs of the surveys and the remediation. As IEC puts it, municipalities know best how and when to tackle this problem. Well, IEC has it partly correct: cities probably do know best what is needed. Unfortunately, a growing list of IL communities have no money to pay for this remediation. And the bill guarantees no state or federal funds to get this huge job accomplished. If rural people don't protest this bill, it would contribute to the growing income inequality defining our state. In other words, towns with money would be able to get this lead pipe removal done and then brag about it publicly. Those towns could see increased property values and would attract business and new residents eager to live in a city with safer water, not to mention the health benefits its residents would enjoy. Meanwhile, tiny towns and rust belt communities already struggling with economic issues of many sorts would not be able to address this bill's requirements in a timely way. 1/8 of all lead pipes in the US are found in IL. That happened because federal, state, county and city leaders chose to approve this technology back in the day. Unfortunately, the way fiscally conservative IL is approaching lead pipes now, we're supposed to solve this problem at primarily the local level. So yeah, I want lead pipes gone. If I had my choice, I'd take money away from law enforcement and use it to pay for lead pipe removal. But that ain't going to happen. Instead, lefties and environmentalists in IL are faced with a conundrum: the lead pipe abatement law we've been offered will result in further eco-injustice in our state. I live in a part of the country where it's often one step forward and two steps back as environmental concerns and economic realities (influenced by the neoliberals who have taken control of IL purse strings on many fronts) end up devising solutions that hurt those least able to absorb the blows. This dynamic, I believe, is significantly different than situations those on the coasts, with their greater numbers of progressive or leftist residents, are likely to see.

Another reason I'm glad Chicagoan Howard Ehrman is on the SCNCC labor forum call Saturday morning, April 20th. He is interested in the whole state, not just Chicago. Anyway, hope you check out "What Urban Liberals Might Learn from Rural Rebels" by Russel Arben Fox. Adelante.